While the rate of forest loss reported by FAO was constant from 1990 through 2005 (1.87 Mha yr−1), the political, economic, social and environmental drivers of forest clearing changed at the close of the last century.

We employed a consistent methodology and data source to quantify forest clearing from 1990 to 2000 and from 2000 to 2005. Results show a dramatic reduction in clearing from a 1990s average of 1.78 Mha yr−1 to an average of 0.71 Mha yr−1 from 2000 to 2005. However, annual forest cover loss indicator maps reveal a near-monotonic increase in clearing from a low in 2000 to a high in 2005.

Results illustrate a dramatic downturn in forest clearing at the turn of the century followed by a steady resurgence thereafter to levels estimated to exceed 1 Mha yr−1 by 2005. The lowlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan were the site of more than 70% of total forest clearing within Indonesia for both epochs; over 40% of the lowland forests of these island groups were cleared from 1990 to 2005.

The method employed enables the derivation of internally consistent, national-scale changes in the rates of forest clearing, results that can inform carbon accounting programs such as the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) initiative.